As the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014, a trio of athletes graces its pages among the likes of models such as Kate Upton and Chrissy Teigen. While the highly popular issue gained criticism over the years for having nothing to do with sport, the presence of female (and the occasional male) athlete has brought a new element of popularity.
Since Steffi Graf turned heads as one of the first athletes to appear in the issue, it has opened the doors for many other athletes to follow. From Danica Patrick to Maria Sharapova to Jennie Finch, Natalie Coughlin once appeared in the issue adorned in nothing but body paint, the swimsuit issue has brought a venerable who’s who in female sport to a much larger audience.
In this year’s edition, three athletes from three very different sports and distinct backgrounds grace the pages. Former Notre Dame basketball star Skylar Diggins, part of the WNBA’s 3 to See Rookies in 2013 (also featuring Brittany Griner and Elena Delle Donne) revealed a warm, softer side beneath what fans know as a competitive and intense exterior. Hoping to bring the Tulsa Shock back in the playoff picture,
Diggins is highly popular for her fashion selections and red carpet pomp. The 23-year-old celebrated her appearance in the issue by going to social media. In a photo in which she is holding the magazine, the caption states “Surreal”.
A gold medalist at the 2012 London Summer Games, Alex Morgan has established herself as soccer’s girl next door. Having also made an appearance in the 2013 edition of the SI Swimsuit Issue, she is the only athletes in the class of 2014 to have appeared before. Like Diggins, she also shared her enthusiasm on social media, stating that she felt honored to be part of the anniversary edition.
The third athlete to be featured this year was certainly the least shy. Professional surfer Anastasia Ashley, who also dabbles part-time as a model, marks the second consecutive year that a surfer appears in the pages of SI Swimsuit. In 2013, surfer Alanna Blanchard graced the pages.
With a rapidly growing fanbase on Instagram, Ashley, who has published photos via social media in which she mimics Kim Kardashian with one of her infamous butt shots, does not exhibit any shyness in the SI Swimsuit edition. She has also openly talked about the sexuality of female surfers, most notably, in the Huffington Post.
Of note, Ashley is featured in some very risqué shots that are visible on the SI Swimsuit website, featuring photos of all three athletes not seen in the magazine. Among them, Ashley dons some see-through mesh tops, leaving very little to the imagination. As a side note, both Ashley and Morgan expose their bare backs in some photos.
While some sports fans may see the presence of these female athletes as controversial, this is a debate that will last for an eternity. The real topic of debate should be what the selection process is for the athletes that appear.
Perhaps a more unique approach could be utilized. Considering that many athletes have had to disrobe for calendars in order to raise funds for their sport or for charity, it would be refreshing if Sports Illustrated could help their cause. Featuring such athletes in their periodical while making a donation to an athlete’s charity of choice may be a more practical way of celebrating an athlete’s commitment to their respective sport.